My view: 40 best Beatles songs
By CNN's Todd Baxter
The Beatles arrive in New York to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show.
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(CNN) -- It was 40 years ago today.
On February 9, 1964, the Beatles -- fresh from their conquests of Britain and Europe -- took the stage on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York. North Americans almost immediately became the next victims of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Beatlemania had gone global.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of their appearance on Sullivan's television show, I have compiled a personal list of the top 40 Beatles songs.
An impossible task, really, as the Beatles should be listened to album by album. But if I had to do with only 40 songs, these would be the ones.
Here they are, in vaguely chronological order:
1. I Saw Her Standing There -- One, two, three, FOH! -- and the first UK Beatles album kicks off. This song would have been a hit for anyone and yet it was only a B-side in the U.S. and an album track in the UK. "How could I dance with another ...?"
2. Twist And Shout. The Beatles' best cover song. It was done at the end of the day they recorded their first album. They did 10 songs on that day. Recording artists don't work that way any more -- mostly because in a couple of years the Beatles did not work that way, either. Two songs in 10 hours, if they were lucky. They did two takes of "Twist and Shout" but the first take had finished off John's voice. The end song of the first UK album. It still thrills.
3. She Loves You. This was the third song they sang at the beginning of Ed Sullivan's show before they went to an Anacin commercial. The viewing audience had to wait another 35 minutes before they heard from the Beatles again. I am sure the kids watching could hardly wait that long, and the parents weren't sure what to think. The Beatles won most of them over in the end. George Martin, the Beatles producer, told them to start with the chorus and they convinced him the final Glenn Miller chord would work. Yeah, yeah, YEAH!!!
4. All My Loving. In keeping with the Sullivan theme, this was the first song nearly 73 million people saw the Beatles perform on the show. If you have the new Ed Sullivan DVD you can see they were surprisingly loose and relaxed looking for people about to take over the music world. Particularly, Paul adds hoots and shouts to their songs. I love how George walks over from sharing John's microphone to sharing Paul's during his Buddy Holly/Carl Perkins-like guitar solo. If you don't have the DVD, you can listen to this version on "Anthology 1." The original version though is the best. John's guitar triplets perfectly underpin the whole song.
5. I Want to Hold Your Hand. The one that started it in the states, their 1st U.S. Number one. In April 1964 they had the top five positions in the Top 10 -- "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand." That is as incredible today, looking back, as it must have been then.
"I Want To Hold Your Hand" just makes you want to dance. Great guitar work by George and, as with all songs in the early Beatles, Ringo keeps it moving at a good pace. The singing is fantastic.
6. And I Love Her. Possibly Paul's first standard. An incredibly moving melody with very good lyrics. He clearly had learned from singing other people's standards like "Til There Was You." A classic.
7. If I Fell. This is the one where the harmonies are so tight during some of it that it is hard to tell which is the melody and which is the harmony. Beautiful singing from John and Paul -- even though Paul's voice cracks at one point. John wrote this one and it is lovely.
8. A Hard Day's Night. CHIIIIINNNNGGG!!! You can hear that first chord can't you? John writes a song using a Ringo phrase as its title. John sings the verse, Paul sings the middle eight. And it moves quickly. Altogether it is magic.
9. Eight Days a Week. Fade up -- on acoustic guitars. This is great pop music. One of the reason this one really does it for me is because someone I knew could play it on guitar and we used to all sing to it. Some say Ringo came up with the title. Paul says a driver taking him to John's house said it to him.
10. Ticket To Ride. Any band want to learn how to make a hit song? Listen to this one over and over -- it's all here. Great lyrics, great musicianship. John wrote it, Paul plays lead guitar and came up with the drum pattern that Ringo brilliantly plays. The Carpenters nearly killed this song by slowing it down. John called it "One of the earliest heavy metal records made." I say it is far too good for heavy metal.
11. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. John does Dylan. This is the first time the Beatles played no electrical instruments. "...feeling two foot small..." was a brilliant line. I like watching them play this one in the movie "Help!" I also like watching "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" from the same movie. That song could have made this list, as well. Watch that song alone to see how the Beatles definitely started the music-video style that later filled up MTV.
12. Help! John later in life wanted to do this song slower. I'm glad he didn't. In the time honored tradition of "All My Loving" and "Ticket to Ride," the music is too bouncy for what is said in the lyrics. But I still love it and don't want it any other way. I love the way the background vocals precede the main vocalist in singing the lyrics. Also, I am used to the U.S. version -- so whenever I play this song on CD, I feel I am missing the James Bond like theme that preceded it on our records. I know the Beatles didn't write it and didn't include it in their version but it belongs at the beginning and that is that.
13. I've Just Seen a Face. Paul does country and western, his way. Paul recorded this song, "I'm Down" and "Yesterday" all on the same day, and in that order. What a day, and what was he thinking? Possibly ruining his voice with "I'm Down" before he recorded "Yesterday" (which does not make my list -- maybe I have heard it too much. It's still a great song -- just not in my top 40). "I've Just Seen a Face" is a great tumbling set of lyrics, perfectly performed. If I play the beginning of this song with the descending guitar line -- I have to hear the rest.
14. Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown). George's first use of the sitar and Ravi Shankar cringed. It works for me with the sitar doubling the guitar, but then again I am not a sitar master. John wrote this one about an affair he had. Paul says he came up with the idea to burn the place down at the end. It is still great poetry set to great music.
15. Drive My Car. First time the Beatles recorded past midnight. Soon it would become the norm. Paul wrote this one with John, but George had Otis Redding running through his head when they played it to him. So, it was reworked to what we hear today. Great bass tone. My 2 1/2 year old son loves it. Beep beep YEAH!
16. Daytripper. More Otis Redding inspired music. This one's about sex and drugs. The Beatles were producing great riffs at this time. This was one of them. The Beatles first double A-side with "We Can Work It Out" because they couldn't decide which was the better side. Who can blame them? Unfortunately, this song is marred by dropouts in two places to cover up vocal errors. Maybe they will fix this when they re-master the whole Beatles catalog which is WELL OVERDUE, if anyone in Apple is reading this.
17. In My Life. John tackles his memories and, like all great Beatles songs, makes it work for my memories too and probably yours. Paul and John later disagreed about who wrote the melody. Most likely it was Paul as it sounds more like him, but it really doesn't matter. Either way, we all benefit. Great piano solo, perfectly recreating the baroque style. It was played by Beatles producer George Martin at half-speed then speeded up when the Beatles weren't around. They liked it, so it stuck.
18. We Can Work it Out. One of the best pairings of John and Paul lyrics. Paul wrote the verse, John the middle eight ("Life is very short..." bit.) George came up with doing the middle eight in waltz time. Brilliant.
19. Nowhere Man. Great vocal harmonies. And John makes it universal with his line "Isn't he a bit like you and me?" Great guitar work as usual.
20. Got To Get You Into My Life. This one could have been seriously messed up. Listen to the Beatles attempt on "Anthology 2." How they got from that to this final one is a mystery to me... but thank goodness they did. This is fantastic. It was apparently by Paul about marijuana. Works great as a love song too.
21. Paperback Writer. At one point this was my favorite Beatles song of them all. I still thrill to the three part harmony, the guitar riff and the bass-line. I also still get a kick out of the Frere Jacques backing vocal. I no longer have one single favorite Beatles song. It's like asking which Ben and Jerry's Ice cream is best. It's a mood thing.
22. Eleanor Rigby. Paul was on fire with his writing during the "Revolver" sessions. This is when he wrote many of his very best songs. "For No One" and "Yellow Submarine" could have made this list as well, but didn't. "Eleanor Rigby" really needs no explanation. The harmony on "Ahh, look at all the lonely people" is gorgeous. This is probably the best song about loneliness. This one really is poetry.
23. Here, There and Everywhere. Likely Paul's most perfect ballad. And he's done a few. Although I could argue for his later solo effort "Maybe I'm Amazed" as well.
24. Strawberry Fields Forever. This song backed by "Penny Lane" has to be the strongest single ever. Another song of John's that doesn't make a lot of sense and yet incredibly does. The music is amazing. The fact that the Beatles would think this strange song would be a hit is a testament to their egos, the fact that it is this incredible is a testament to their talent. I can now always hear the join between the two different takes, but I don't mind. Who could imagine it would be kept from the No.1 spot in Britain by Englebert Humperdink's "Please Release Me"? And how did they ever think that bit of jamming at the end would be essential to the song ... but it is ... "cranberry sauce." Their first take of this on "Anthology 2," where every verse has a change in the instrumentation, is also amazing.
25. Penny Lane. Suburban remembrances for Paul. There are at least four piano tracks playing on this one... you can hear it in the changes the various sounds the pianos produce throughout. Growing up, I thought the line that said, "the banker sits waiting for a trim" actually was "the banker sits waiting for a trend"... which in its own way is a pretty cool thought. I still think I would have preferred the trumpet ending that was only on the Promo single release. I will never know why the Beatles went for the shimmery cymbal ending. If I ever get an interview with Paul or George Martin -- I will ask "Why did you get rid of the end trumpet bit?"
26. A Day in the Life. The big one on "Sgt. Pepper." John wrote the main body of the song, Paul had the middle eight floating around, weld it all together by Paul's Stockhausen Orchestra crescendo and "I'd love to turn you on phrase" and WOW!
27. I am The Walrus. More lyrical nonsense from John. Lewis Carroll inspired with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in via a radio broadcast. Great musical backing including the Mike Sammes singers chanting "Everybody's got one." It's all in there and like all the other Beatle songs repeated listening brings up other things you had never heard before.
28. Blackbird. Great lyrics, inspired acoustic guitar. Nothing more really to say -- listen to it -- it explains itself.
29. Ob La Di- Ob La Da. Big tension song for the Beatles during the "White Album." The Beatles do reggae-influenced ska. The sprightly beginning piano part reportedly came from a very frustrated and possibly stoned John. It works brilliantly. John, George and Ringo rejected it as a single as they were sick of playing it. I love it and can play it over and over.
30. Revolution. This as a double A side single with "Hey Jude" is the Beatles second best single. "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" ranks third in my book. The other three Beatles forced John to speed up the song as John wanted "Revolution 1" that ended up on the "White Album" to be the single. Great overdriven guitars banging away. Great scream at the beginning but I am not sure if it is John or Paul who screams. Paul did it in the promotional video. During the promo video of this song for David Frosts' show they added the "Shoo-bee-do-wop-bow" backing vocals from the "Revolution 1" version onto the fast version. I liked that a lot. I wish they would have put that version on the Anthology.
31. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Great intro, I particularly like the piano. Eric Clapton was drafted in by George to play the solo and to keep Beatles on their best behavior. Eric asked for his solo to have "wobble" added to it to make it fit the Beatles sound. George's demo had an extra verse which he thankfully cut.
32. Hey Jude. The most uplifting Beatles song. If you are unhappy put this on and you will be "Na, na, na, na na na na" along with it in no time. I love the drum entrance by Ringo.
33. Back in the USSR. Ringo quit the band during this one. So, Paul plays the drums. A great Chuck Berry/Beach Boys pastiche that really rocks. I got to hear Paul play this in Red Square in Moscow. It was awesome.
34. I Will. Probably the most obscure song on my list. It took over 70 takes to get right. Paul uses his voice to create the bass sounds. I sing this to my sons to get them to sleep.
35. Birthday. Best birthday song ever. Paul came up with the idea and the Beatles made it up in the studio. Great rock and roll as only the Beatles can do. Play it loud for your best friend over the phone when it's their birthday. "I would like you to dance -- BIRTHDAY!"
36. Get Back. Rollicking song, a thumper. Oh, to have been near Savile Row to have heard them play this in their last live performance. The song started out life as a satire of Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" immigration speech. The lyrics were then changed to something less specific regarding a man who thought he was a woman and California grass. You need to play the single version with Paul saying "...Wearing her high heeled shoes and her low necked sweater... get back home Loretta." The "Let It Be" album version pales by comparison and "Let It Be Naked" didn't put the extended ending on either. Go to "Past Masters 2" for the right version.
37. The Long and Winding Road. Beautiful lyrics and great music, unfortunately, the Beatles never got the perfect recording of it. Although "Let it Be Naked" is about as close as you can get.
38. Come Together. The Beatles do swamp music. Listen again to that intro -- how did they come up with that? Fantastic. John saying "Shoot me," some bass notes by Paul and an intriguing drum pattern by Ringo. It always reminded me of someone dialing a rotary phone for some reason. Kids today probably wouldn't understand that. The song doesn't make a lot of lyrical sense but in typical John way it somehow does make sense.
39. Something. George rips off the first line from James Taylor and then makes it his own. Paul's bass line is very busy ... but beautiful. As Frank Sinatra once reportedly said, "The greatest love song by Lennon and McCartney." No wonder George felt undervalued. This alone is worth the price of admission to Abbey Road.
40. Here Comes the Sun. George clears off the cold of England and the Beatles in one song. This and "Something" are the two best songs George wrote for the Beatles, he had stacks of good songs by this point to record in which John, in particular (who isn't on this song due to a car accident) and Paul weren't much interested. Alas, The Beatles broke up before they could get recorded so they became solo songs. For those see "All Things Must Pass" and imagine them with great Beatle backing.
-- Todd Baxter is Chief Cameraman/Video Producer at CNN London